I would imagine that many of you reading this article have heard one story or another about the growing wave of armed home invasions that have taken place over the last year.
As one of the leaders of the Cedar Valley Neighbourhood Watch, I have tracked these rather closely because I have been concerned about the changing nature of crime in Antigua.
Ten years ago, most of the crime in our neighbourhood was limited to petty burglaries that were committed by repeat offenders with a reputation for breaking into unoccupied homes. While such a crime is offensive because it burdens good citizens with criminals who repeatedly rob them without much consequence, it is not inherently dangerous nor is it a fundamental threat to the residents of Antigua & Barbuda as a whole.
But times are changing. This past year, there has been an increase in the number home invasions. They hit our neighbourhood a couple of weeks ago when I received a frantic call that a neighbour’s home had been invaded by two armed and masked men. The men entered the home and held a gun to the head of a kind and harmless helper, and repeatedly threatened her with death if she did not do as they wished. They brought terror and fear into a peaceful home, and left these dark feelings behind after they departed.
Home invasions are different. When armed criminals invade an occupied home, they are consciously entering that home with the intent to cause harm to the occupants. Why else do they have the guns and enter if the home is occupied? These criminals will take whatever they want, including an individual’s right to feel safe in his or her own home. And they will even kill someone if they so choose … as we have seen happen during the past year.
Home invasions are different. They strike fear into the hearts of the inhabitants of the home and also into the hearts of other residents of our country. When criminals invade a home and threaten those residing there and even kill them, the effects of these crimes are felt by everyone. People end up keeping their doors locked and their windows closed in the daytime, because they don’t feel safe anymore. Antigua & Barbuda is no longer a country where people can leave their doors unlocked, as they have been accustomed to doing in the past.
We need action and answers. Home invasions must be viewed as a different class of crime that requires stiff sentences. If laws need to be written to facilitate this, then they need to be done so that the courts can have clear rules to follow.
It is time to say “No! We will not take this anymore! We will fight back!” We need to pull together as a wider community to identify what works and what doesn’t work in fighting crime. We need to work with police officers who have proven track records in helping our communities … sharing information and working as one. And, finally, we need to pass laws that classify home invasions as a type of crime requiring the most severe penalties under the law.